Musical Instruments, Good Teachers ➶

Jaron Lanier, writing in The New Yorker:

In my own musical life, I prize the edge of chaos; that which cannot be repeated. I usually don’t record myself when I play alone; I don’t want to trick myself into a false mentality that lives outside of time, as if we weren’t time’s prisoners. I want to send music out into the universe, not into a computer’s memory. As crazy as it is to learn to play a multitude of instruments, my madness is the opposite of the loop. I’m often asked if I’ve learned all these instruments in order to make a sample library, or if I’d be willing to have someone come to the house to make such a library. Though I offer positivity from afar to musicians who like samples, I am travelling in a different direction.

If you work with virtual reality, you end up wondering what reality is in the first place. Over the years, I’ve toyed with one possible definition of reality: it’s the thing that can’t be perfectly simulated, because it can’t be measured to completion. Digital information can be perfectly measured, because that is its very definition. This makes it unreal. But reality is irrepressible.

My fondest hope for computing is that digital devices will become as much like pianos as possible. But the subtlest qualities of analog instruments are hard to study, in part because the controls necessary to make studies rigorous risk obscuring important elements of musical experience. There have been many studies comparing old and new violins, for instance, or flutes made of different metals, in which a player is hidden behind a screen and listeners are asked to identify which instrument is being played. The problem with this approach is that the difference between a good instrument and a great one could inhere in the player’s experience, rather than in the external sound. If an instrument inspires a musician, then the music will be more meaningful, even if listeners can’t distinguish the sound of one instrument from another. Music is an interior art before it becomes exterior.

Don’t miss the beautiful song in the article, “Waves Only Get Real When They Break,” by Colin Farish (piano), Jaron Lanier (guzheng), and Jhaffur Khan (flute).

My guitar and my camera are my best friends in difficult times.

✶ Sunday, 23 July 2023

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